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The secret badasses of Chicago

To me, Chicago is a place to be a multidimensional human being. Our city is full of secret badasses who balance (sometimes multiple) careers and organizations with families, outside interests, and diverse social circles. Here, it’s not only possible to grow a creative career from scratch, but nurture the career you brought with you from New York or Los Angeles…and also lead a full, balanced life.

I recently had breakfast with Jessica Moss Gupta, who moved back to Chicago many years ago when she took a museum job. By the time her daughter was in elementary school, Jessica realized that she wanted to be “the one in the car” with her daughter AND find meaningful work. I mentioned this conversation to my mom Gigi —an incredible film, TV and theater producer who was one of the first women to own a Hollywood production company — and her friend Mary Frances, a longtime entertainment executive. When I explained this idea of being “the one in the car,” they exchanged a knowing look, because once upon a time, they had the same a-ha moment as Jessica.

There’s a common misconception that moving to Chicago means sacrificing your career aspirations if your industry is based in a different city. But in my opinion and experience, moving to Chicago (or moving back to Chicago) means being able to build a human-centric life where your work — career or not — is about effecting change and creating community.

Having lived in New York and L.A. myself, I personally feel like I am much more defined by who I AM than what I DO in Chicago. It’s the best feeling. But interestingly — because everyone is seen as an individual here — sometimes I wonder if it’s harder to “find your people” or “network” your way into a group of like-minded creatives. That's what we want the Gertie community to be — a space where people can be both and hold space for both. To be a human and meet other humans and to broaden what it means to excel professionally in that process.

I’ll wrap with a quote from Tony Fitzpatrick, a true multi-hyphenate who — according to our new favorite author Alex Kotlowitz — has been a Golden Gloves boxer and a character actor, yet always comes back to Chicago. To him, Chicago is a city of “people who don't fit in anywhere else…it’s a collection of square pegs.”

So this week at Gertie, we want to celebrate the square pegs and the ones who wanted to be “the ones in the car.”

Creative builders are all around our city masquerading as “normies” ... stick with us and we’ll help you find your people 😉

xx Abby

Vincent Uribe moved to Chicago from Los Angeles to attend the School at the Art Institute of Chicago. In addition to immersing himself in the contemporary art and disability community, he’s always the first person on a dancefloor and he’s not afraid to be the DJ’s hype man. Before he moved to a quieter neighborhood, he spent nine years living in Wicker Park behind his gallery, LVL3.  “One of my favorite things about Chicago is how supportive people are of each other's work and projects,” Vincent says. “Maybe it's just a Midwest mindset, but people here genuinely seem to want to see each other succeed and can be seen pushing each other forward in support.” Not to mention: “I think the affordability here really allows artists to be artists while living a comfortable lifestyle which can be harder to get in other major cities.”

Chef Jake Potashnick returned to Chicago last summer after spending the last seven years in Sweden, France, and Germany.  “While I cherished the opportunity to live abroad, there’s no denying that what defined me in each of those countries was my job and being an expat,” he says. Here, even though his life is built around food, he’s incredibly passionate about the improv comedy scene, the farmers market community, “dingy dive bars,” and the bleachers at Wrigley Field. Jake’s secret Chicago badass nominee is the “dangerously humble” Ethan Pikas, Chef and owner of Cellar Door Provisions. “He can out-cook just about anybody in the city, while also being one of Chicago’s biggest proponents for sustainable and local agriculture,” Jake says.

For architect and designer Elyse Agnello, community is everything. She leads a design practice called DAAM, and co-founded the Avondale social club and workspace Guild Row, and helped build the LYTE Lounge, a community center that offers services to youth people experiencing homelessness. Elyse lived in New Jersey, Ann Arbor, Chicago, the Boston area, London, and Madrid before moving back to Chicago, where she decided to put down roots, forge partnerships, launch businesses, fall in love, and start a family. “I think my determination and scrappiness is the most Chicago part of me,” she says.

Wherever award-winning children’s book author Michael Tyler goes, he asks people, "What does it mean to be human?" The Chicago native has also spent time in New York, but he’s partial to our “ethnic mosaic of communities combined with the indomitable spirit of the artists and creatives who live here,” he said. Also, “It's a very walkable city, which daily allows me to stay connected to people. I need that. Literally and figuratively, I have a very pedestrian approach to life.” His secret badass nomination is his wife Alicia Bassuk. “How many people can you name who’ve won championship rings in the NBA and the WNBA? She’s a slam dunk!”

Pilsen-based artist Yvette Mayorga has lived in the Midwest for most of her life. Though she moved around for college and grad school, she realized she could be close to her family, show her work nationally and internationally, and pursue activist projects in the Midwest. “The perfect balance for me 💗," she says.


On March 4th, the MCA will be hosting Deem Journal’s first symposium. Called “Designing for Dignity: A Convening of Possibilities,” the day of talks will explore how design can create more equitable and inclusive communities. Speakers include Amanda Williams, Germane Barnes, Ramon Tejada, Tonika Lewis Johnson, and Otez Gary.

If you want to spend time thinking more deeply about the topics of conversation, the MCA will organize a “reference room” from March 3-5 where you can read the books, articles, and essays the speakers used for research.Tickets (both in-person AND virtual) are available here.

Hats off to temporary New Yorker but lifetime Chicagoan Victoria Rogers and Chris Cloud for helping organize such a cool event.


"Day jobs" that changed art history.

How do artists make a living? A new exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin turns the age-old question on its head. Rather than looking at day jobs as a necessary diversion from art, curators Veronica Roberts and Lynne Maphies show how some day jobs were central to artistic growth. Light and Space painter Larry Bell was inspired by the light at the framing shop where he worked, while Dan Flavin was an elevator operator at the MoMA. (Not to mention, Jeff Koons was once a Wall Street commodities trader.)

“Day Jobs” opens February 19, and you can read all about it at Artnet.